For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 4, 2003
Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Houston, Texas
10:48 A.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good morning. Today is going to be a tough day. The President's remarks are going to focus on the lives of the seven who were lost. He'll talk about seven lives of great purpose and achievement. I think it's going to be a stirring and poignant day.
I'll go through the President's schedule. It began this morning with a phone call to President Putin. They are continuing to consult about the best way to disarm Saddam Hussein. He had an intelligence briefing and an FBI briefing before he left the White House.
His program, when he arrives in Houston, will be the following. He will arrive, attend the ceremony, listen to a variety of the speeches and the ceremonial events that will take place. His remarks will be brief, between five and ten minutes. And he'll honor the memory of the seven crew members who were lost.
Following that, the President will have a private meeting with the families of the crew members, and then he will return to Washington. Traveling with him on Air Force One -- and he has interestingly spent the last one hour in the guest cabin -- the President has been talking with John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, both of whom are riding on Air Force One, along with their spouses.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q When the President says he's committed to making sure that their mission goes on, is he committing specifically to a continuation of the Space Shuttle program, or just our exploration in space?
MR. FLEISCHER: Both.
Q He has no doubts about the Space Shuttle program, given that we've lost two of them in 17 years?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I've not heard any expressions of doubt from the President on that. As the President said to Sean O'Keefe yesterday, "You make us proud." And incidentally, I should mention, Sean O'Keefe is on board as well. The President's science advisor is on board, Jack Marburger.
The President understands that manned space flight is a risky mission. And it's a risk that the President thinks is in our national and international interest. And he will talk about that in his speech today.
Q What do you hope the presence of Neil Armstrong and John Glenn will do for this particular event?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, Neil Armstrong and John Glenn are heroes to America's astronauts, in addition to being heroes to the American public. And it's a real signal of the President's dedication to the program that they travel with him today. It's a message of faith and support, standing tall with the scientific community and with NASA during this very trying time for them and their families.
Q But, Ari, is he worried that the warnings about the Space Shuttle that were passed on in the letter from Don Nelson didn't get to him, they stopped at Marburger, never moved on; that he was not briefed earlier about some of these warnings about the fleet?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the issue is -- and the White House indicated this on Sunday when we discussed at length Mr. Nelson's letter -- Mr. Nelson had recommended a moratorium of the space shuttle for the purpose of developing a pod that could be used to eject from the space shuttle upon launch. These involve technical issues and technical issues are best explored by the technical experts.
Q So the President doesn't feel he should have been informed about this earlier, at all.
MR. FLEISCHER: The answer is exactly as I just indicated.
Q Have you determined whether the President has visited Johnson before? There is still a dispute.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you. The Texas staff all recalls a visit. I was asked to get the date. I am not able to find a date. And so I think right now it's somewhat murky.
Q Because Johnson has no record of it, and we don't have any record of it in the Chronicle files, and things like that.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware of that. And that's why I say this is now somewhat murky.
Q With due respect, how could it be murky? How would you forget going to the -- whether or not you went to the Johnson Space Center?
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, the Texas staff that was with the President at the time remembered it, which is why I said it.
Q Has anybody asked the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, or the Governor repeatedly had briefings from NASA officials where they would come to Austin and brief him -- these are the Texas officials from Houston -- traveled to Austin to brief him on the NASA programs.
Q Has he ever seen a launch or a landing, and hasn't he ever been curious about a launch or a landing?
MR. FLEISCHER: He very well may have been curious about a launch or a landing. I'm not aware if he has seen any.
Q Why not?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there are many things that Presidents would like to do, in the two plus one month years that he's been in office, he hasn't had an opportunity to do. There are many wonderful parts of America that the President has yet to explore. And over the course of his term, perhaps he will. He has not yet.
Q Ari, do you have anything on a terrorist threat -- general threat from al Qaeda that may be imminent with assassination plots before that? Do you have anything on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is nothing new here in this report. It does remain an ongoing concern. Al Qaeda, of course, does want to attack the United States. They've attacked us before. If they get their way, they'll attack us again. That's one of the reasons why we are sparing no effort in the war against terror to stop them abroad before they can make it to America, to beef up our protections here in America to prevent them from getting in, and then to have very effective law enforcement techniques put in place to find them if they're already here.
It is a concern. But there's nothing new. There's no new information here.
Q What report is this, do you know? Somebody heard it over the radio today.
Q It's in the Washington Times.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a Bill Gertz on the front page of today's Washington Times.
Q I know it's a small point, but back to this murkiness. Has anybody asked the President if he recalls going to the Johnson Space Center?
MR. FLEISCHER: I did. To the President's recollection, he thinks he had been there. He wasn't sure about when, when it was before his becoming governor.
Q How confident is the President that after Powell's speech he'll get a second resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
Q How confident is the President that after Powell's speech, he'll get a second resolution out of the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll see. First of all, we'll see whether there will be a second resolution or not. But I think that the American people are going to be very interested in Secretary Powell's remarks tomorrow. I wouldn't be surprised if it was broadcast by the networks, although I have no reason -- I have not talked to them about it. It wouldn't be my place to talk to them about it. They make these judgements independently.
But I think the American people are going to have a very keen interest in what Secretary Powell will have to say. And the American people had a very keen interest in what the President said in his State of the Union about the threat from Saddam Hussein and his possession of weapons that he swore he didn't have, when we know he does.
Q Ari, what comes after that, Powell's address. What are we expected to see in the couple -- next couple weeks from the President regarding Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think really, we will see. The one event that the world still waits for is Saddam Hussein's next move. Saddam Hussein's next move should have been the move he made months ago, which was to do what South Africa, other nations have done, and disarm, once and for all, cooperate once and for all, to comply once and for all. He has not done any of the three. He has not disarmed, he has not cooperated, he has not complied.
Q Did President Bush and President Putin discuss any new resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: They consulted. And I'm not going to get into any more of the specifics of the call beyond that.
Q How long was it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Fifteen minutes, including translation.
Q There's a lot of talk about weeks, not months. Not to be technical, but anything over eight weeks is months, right, so it's got to be less than that. And there's reports out that it's six weeks. So it's got to be somewhere in that timeframe, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President indeed said, weeks, not months. And I've been trying to caution the press to not make any judgements about exactly how many weeks that could be, because I've seen a lot of guess work in the media. I've seen a report that said seven to eight weeks, then I saw a report that said three weeks. Now I see a report that says six weeks. So I guess by process of elimination, if every week is covered, one of them may turn out to be right.
But there's no basis that I have seen that would allow anybody to make any type of authoritative statement with more precision than the President has given. The President gave a rather tight timetable. But he didn't define with specificity how exactly tight that timetable is.
Q Has the President been briefed about any debris that may have fallen on his ranch? There was some talk that some debris may have fallen on his --
MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that I've heard about that, Benett. It did not come up in the meeting yesterday with Mr. O'Keefe. And nobody has brought anything like that to my attention. Having looked at the maps of where the debris fell, my look at those maps indicates that it was north of his ranch. But if there is anything too that, I'll let you know. But I have not heard that. You heard that?
Q I just heard one report. But now they're finding it west of Fort Worth. It's sort of further afield than --
MR. FLEISCHER: Do you know where you heard a report that it landed on his ranch?
Q I don't remember now, where I heard that.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll dot the T's and cross the I's on that.
Q What was the question?
MR. FLEISCHER: The question was, one report that debris may have fallen on the President's ranch. And in a mix of metaphors, I promised that I would dot the T's and cross the I's to find out, a spelling mistake.
Q Just to close a loop, if the President recalls being at Johnson Space Center, and his staff recalls being at Johnson Space Center, why is it murky?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because Johnson Space Center says that he did not go there, and I'm not able to find the exact date. So that's why I say it's murky.
Q Ari, you know, when our reporter -- Chronicle reporter asked during the campaign, the Bush staff said he had not been there as Governor.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I'm aware of that.
Q So all the reports seem to indicate he --
MR. FLEISCHER: When I said it yesterday, I relied on information from somebody -- the press office relied on the information that was provided to us. And so, in the end, I don't think it's that significant a factor or not. But I want to be precise in what I say. And now you know everything I know about it.
Q So it may have been when he was a private citizen, when there would have been no record of him coming in.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's indeed a possibility, correct.
Q Is it Karen Hughes recalls him going, is that who --
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not talked to Karen about it.
Q Maybe Brian Montgomery or somebody?
MR. FLEISCHER: All right, let me try to find out about the debris.
END 11 A.M. EST